In a Dry and Weary Land

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Before David became the king of Israel he was a man on the run. He was being pursued by the reigning king, Saul, who was jealous of David’s popularity after the shepherd boy killed Goliath and the women had danced and sang in his honor. He ran for his life, into the desert of Judah. Deserts are harsh places and David lamented this “dry and weary land where there is no water” (Ps 63:1b). David was thirsty, but it wasn’t liquid refreshment he craved. Listen to his cry: “O God, You are my God, earnestly I seek You; my soul thirsts for You, my body longs for You . . .” (v. 1a). Water would have been welcome, but David’s greatest desire was for his God.  He said, “Your love is better than life,” (v. 3).

I understand David’s desert season. It’s been a rough couple of weeks with sickness, struggles, responsibilities, and my granddaughter moving away. But I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. You’ve also had struggles of one kind or another. It’s so draining. The result is the same: the heart becomes weary and the soul gets dry. What do we do in these desert seasons? The same things David did.

We earnestly seek God. The KJV says “early will I seek thee” and that’s the best time to start – early. Yes, early in the morning, but also early in the dry spell. Don’t wait until your heart is withered and parched. Seek God early, as soon as you feel the sand on your toes. Earnestly also means diligently. Seek God early and often.

We praise God. “My lips will glorify you. I will praise You as long as I live . . . my mouth will praise You.” (v. 3-5 sel). Praise is like vitamin-infused water to our dry hearts. And praise silences the enemy who loves to hit you when you’re down.

We remember God. “On my bed, I remember you; I think of You through the watches of the night” (v. 6). When my heart is heavy, my brain will not shut up at night. Rather than think about all the things that are going wrong, we can choose to think about what is “true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy (Phil 4:8). In other words, think about God.

We grab hold of God. “My soul clings to you; (v. 8). Remember the old bandaid song, “I am stuck on Bandaid, cause Bandaid’s stuck on me.” Cling to God because “Your right hand upholds me.” He’s got you.

We rejoice in the Lord. “Rejoice in God; all who swear by God’s name will praise Him” (v. 11). We can rejoice because God is faithful. He will come with His refreshing, comforting, powerful presence. We have His Word on it.

Beloved, if your heart is dry and weary, seek God, praise Him, remember Him, hang on to Him, and find Joy in Him. And “sing in the shadow of His wings” (v. 7).

Are You Thirsty?

My son came into the kitchen from a long day of working in the summer heat.  He needed a shower.  He needed food.  But at that moment he desperately wanted something cold to drink.  He chugged a bottle of water from the fridge and then headed off to get cleaned up.  When we all sat down to supper, he had a glass of iced tea at his place.  He took a few drinks from it but left the glass half-full when he finished the meal.  His thirst, so intense just an hour before, had been satisfied; he didn’t have the same desire for a drink.

David was running for his life through the desert.  It was Dry.  Hot.  Dusty.  He was desperately thirsty with no water in sight.  But even more than a physical thirst, David was experiencing a desperate desire for God. “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek You, my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (Ps 63:1).  Do you hear the intensity of his need?  Earnest. Thirsty.  Longing.  Nothing would satisfy but his God.

The Sons of Korah (think temple worship leaders) had the same passion for God: “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?” (Ps 42:1-2). It makes me wonder – when was the last time the church desperately panted for God?

Sometimes our lives take a hard turn and we find ourselves dry and desperate for relief.  I believe God allows those times to stir up a thirst for Him.  Just like my son at supper, when we are satisfied with our lives, we don’t drink Him in as deeply as we do when our thirst is intense.  We don’t sense our need for Him.  We don’t pant for Him. But when we’re in the desert we long for Him. That’s when we earnestly seek Him.  Is your heart dry and weary today?  Let that desperate need turn you back to God.  Be refreshed by His grace.  Be satisfied by His love.  Jesus said that whoever drinks from His spring will never thirst again (John 4:14). Come, Beloved, drink deeply from the Living Water.

Dry Ground

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“O God, You are my God, earnestly I seek You; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for You, in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (Psalm 63:1).

“Lord, I just feel so dry, like the cracked ground of a desert,” I wrote in my prayer one day.  It was the best description of my life. My soul felt dry and my body was weary.  My spirit longed for Living Water.  In my parched state, I pleaded with God to send relief.

As He so often does, the Holy Spirit sent me on a “Biblical scavenger-hunt” to see what the Word has to say.  He took me to Exodus 14 where Moses, through the power of the Lord, caused the sea to part and the people crossed over “on dry ground.”  He took me to Joshua 3 where again the Israelites crossed the Jordan (at flood stage, mind you) by way of a divinely dried-up riverbed. They didn’t slug through mud and muck but walked on firm, dry land.  Then He took me to Ezekiel 37, where the prophet spoke the Word of the Lord and dry bones came to life again, with tendons and flesh and the breath of Life.  Finally, He took me to Isaiah 53 and reminded me that Jesus was called “a tender shoot, like a root out of dry ground,” (v. 2).

In all of these, He reminded me that dry seasons can be the gateway to the Promised Land.  They can precede a time of awakening and renewal, and they can actually become a place of growth.  I learned through these examples that surviving dry seasons requires perseverance, listening to the Word of God, and being humble and submissive before Him.  These are lifelines during these times when our hearts and our spirits are like a cracked desert.

Beloved, if you are in Christ, God will use even the dry seasons of your life to fulfill His plan and purpose.  You need not be afraid, but press in and press on.  There is Living Water in His Word and His Spirit.  He will send the refreshing you need.  Then “The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.  It will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for Joy” (Isaiah 35:1). God will bring beauty to the desert, the wilderness, and your dry heart.

Water in the Desert

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Hagar and Ishmael had been banished to the desert with just a skin of water and no direction. When the water ran out so did Hagar’s hope. She couldn’t bear to watch her son die, so she set him under a bush and walked away. As her tears fell, God sent an angel to comfort her and give her hope. And water. The Scripture says “Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water” (Genesis 21:19). A well. In a desert. Just at the moment she needed it. Right where she stopped in her hopelessness.

There are volumes here we can talk about from this account. Hagar was in a place she didn’t want to be – does that ring a bell? She was there because of other people’s sin and abuse – that might resonate with someone. She saw no good end to her situation – anyone else feeling that? Her heart was broken for herself and for her child – I know many of you have been there.  A good preacher could get a month’s worth of 3-point sermons out of this story. But here is my take-away: God brings hope into hopeless situations. He gives water in the desert, peace in the storm, direction in the wilderness, and light in the darkness. He is watching with tender care to meet you wherever your struggles take you. Whether you are in the desert or on a stormy sea – if your life is a train wreck or you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place, God knows right where you are Beloved. He knows exactly what you need. He will meet you in the middle of your hopeless situation. Just when you think all is lost, God says you are found.

Seeing the God Who Sees Me

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The angel of the Lord found Hagar…” Genesis 16:7

You know the story of Abraham and Sarah – childless and old, God promised them a son, but in the waiting, they grew impatient and Abraham slept with Sarah’s maid Hagar, and she conceived. But their act of faithlessness caused tremendous grief for the Egyptian slave-girl. Twice Hagar wound up in the desert, weary, hungry and frightened. On her first excursion, Scripture tells us “The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert” (Gen. 16:7). The Hebrew word for “found” means “to cause to encounter.” God purposefully put Himself in Hagar’s path to cause her to have an encounter with Him. He set Himself right where He knew she was going because His heart was tender to her.  Hagar gained precious insight into who God is.  Realizing that the God of her master was very much aware of her and her plight,  She named the Lord El Roi – “the God who sees me” (Gen. 16:13).

After the birth of Ishmael (which- by the way – means The Lord has heard – Gen 16:11) Hagar and her son were forced to leave their home with Abraham and Sarah.  When their meager supplies of food and water ran out, Hagar recognized their inevitable deaths.  She put Ishmael under a tree and walked away, so as not to watch her weakened son die.  She and the boy were both crying, and God once again came to Hagar and assured her that He was aware of their plight.  Genesis 21:19 says, “Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water.”  Oh, do you see the beauty of this passage? El Roi – the God who saw Hagar, now opened Hagar’s eyes so she could see.  He showed her a well of life-giving water that would minister to their bodies and to their spirits.

You may find yourself in some difficult places and very hard circumstances, but I can assure you that you have never been out of your Heavenly Father’s sight.  There is no place you can go that God will not be.  Whether they are physical places, emotional pits, and spiritual dark caves – God has promised, “I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Joshua 1:5) The truth is, it’s often in those hard places that we see the God who sees us. Had Hagar not been lost in the wilderness, running from the hard hand of her mistress, she would have never encountered the Lord and come to know Him.  I know this to be true in my life.  So often I have discovered aspects of God that I would have never known had I not been in difficult circumstances.  When I was unable to put food on our table, I discovered Jehovah-Jireth – the Lord who Provides (Gen. 22:8). When I was desperately ill I found Jehovah Rapha – The Lord our Healer (Ps. 103:3). When I was discouraged and fearful, Jehovah Shalom – The Lord is Peace (Jud. 6:23-24) and Yahweh-Tsuri – The Lord my Strength (Ex. 15:2) came to encourage and strengthen me.  If you are in a difficult season, look for God to reveal Himself to you in a new and encouraging way.

Beloved, if He was faithful to a frightened, lost Egyptian slave girl, and He will surely be faithful to you.

Fear Not

Fear not

“Fear not . . .”  Isaiah 43:1

“Fear not” – words that make us stand a little straighter and feel a little stronger.  “Fear not,” (and words of a similar context) are found in the Bible more than a hundred times.[1]  We’re taught that fear and faith cannot coexist.  A fearful saint is not a faithful saint. But if you – like me – find yourself in a tumultuous situation, that contrast between the two extremes is a very real and present tension.  Like the father in Mark 9, we find ourselves pleading – “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (v. 24).  Over and over I pray: “God, I know You’ve got this.  I know you are faithful.  I know You will never leave me nor forsake me.  But I’m scared God.  I don’t want to be.  I’m trying not to be.  But I am.”  And He understands.  He doesn’t chide or rebuke me – He just gives me reasons not to fear.

Fear not . . . for God has heard (Gen. 21:18)

Fear not for I am with you (Gen. 26:24) (My favorite)

Do not be afraid, the Lord will fight for you (Deut. 3:22)

Do not be afraid . . . for the Lord will never leave you nor forsake you (Deut. 31:6)

Fear not; I will help you (Isa. 41:13)

Today, at the suggestion of my sister-in-love, I’ve been meditating in Isaiah 43 and found some incredible words of hope that fit my life perfectly:

“This is what the Lord says – He who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters” (v. 16); “I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland” (v. 19).

At this moment I am both drowning in the sea and wandering through a desert.  Seems as odd as faith mingled with fear but let me explain.  My emotions seem like an overflowing river, thoughts rushing this way and that, pulling me under and threatening to take my very breath.  For a split second I come up for air – “I believe!”  In the next the waves crash over my head again – “But I am afraid!”  God promises to make a way – a path through the waters of fearful thoughts and discouragement that threaten to drown me.  He promises dry ground to cross over to the other side.

Yet I am in the desert where nothing grows and all seems lost – walking through a season of drought.  Health issues.  Disability.  Unemployment.   Multiple applications with no nibbles.  Interviews with “no thank you.”  Watching the funds dwindle as the provisions dry up.  The reality of what we’re facing beats down like the scorching sun as we wander looking for an oasis.  God promises to make a way here too – to provide streams in this wasteland .  Mind you not to drown us like the sea, but to refresh and restore us.

He meets our needs for rescue and refreshing.  He gives us dry ground and cool springs.  He never fails to notice us wherever we are – even when we’re in two places at once.  Oh, my drowning, wandering friend – let me throw you a lifeline of hope.  You don’t have to fear because God hears you, He is with you, He fights for you, He will never leave nor forsake you, and He promises to help you.  He knows where you are right now, and He knows what you need right here.  He will make a way.

 

[1] The NIV records some 110 references; other translations will have a slightly different word count.  Despite how good is sounds, there are actually not 365 “Fear not” verses.

Wherever You Go

Hagar was an Egyptian slave, serving as handmaiden to the wife of Abram and as a surrogate mother to bear a child for the barren Sarai.  This caused much strife between Sarai and Hagar, as you can imagine and Hagar ran away from her mistress, into the unforgiving wilderness where, “The angel of the Lord found Hagar…” Genesis 16:7.  The Hebrew word for “found” means “to cause to encounter.” God purposefully put Himself in Hagar’s path to cause her to have an encounter with Him. That means He didn’t go on a seek-and-find mission, He set Himself right where He knew she was going, because she was His wounded child and His heart was tender to her. 

One of the most precious promises in the Bible to me is “The Lord your God will be with you where you go” (Jos. 1:9).  I have found myself in some difficult places and very hard circumstances, often of my own making, but I have never been out of my Heavenly Father’s sight.  In the margin of my Bible I have written these words that God spoke to my heart: “Child, there is no place you can go that I will not be.”  Whether they are physical places or emotional pits or spiritual dark caves – God has promised “I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Joshua 1:5).  If He willingly went to the cross, and into the dark grave of death for us, then we can trust that He will never abandon us, no matter where we are. 

Beloved, I don’t know where you find yourself today but this I know for sure – God was there for a frightened, lost Egyptian slave girl, He has been there for me and He is there with you.  The truth is, He was there – waiting for you – before you ever arrived.

In the Desert

Sunbaked Mud in Desert ca. 1990s Death Valley, California, USA

Sunbaked Mud in Desert ca. 1990s Death Valley, California, USA

“The desert and the parched land will be glad: the wilderness will rejoice and blossom” (Isaiah 35:1)

I’ve been in a bit of desert lately; work and school and other responsibilities have sapped my mental, physical and spiritual energy and drained my joy.  Yesterday was the first Sunday I’ve been able to attend church in 4 weeks.  I expected to be like a sponge and just soak it all up, but I felt more like a rock that sank to the bottom of the sea.  What is happening and why Lord?  This morning when I came back to Mark chapter 1 (God has kept me here for weeks) I read that after Jesus’ baptism, “the Spirit led Him out into the desert . . .” (v. 12).  So I began searching for other “deserts” in the Bible and I found that, despite what I expected, most of the desert experiences in Scripture were not times of punishment or even rebellion.  They were encounters with God and seasons of preparation. 

The first mention of a desert was when Hagar was running from Sarah.  There she met God – El Roi – the God who saw her in the desert.  Later she and her son were rescued by a miraculous well of water in the desert, by the God who heard her son’s cries.  David wandered in the desert wilderness for several years before he gained the throne of Israel.  And even though their 30 years of desert wandering was punishment for Israel’s rebellion, it prepared them for the Promised Land.  If we need any more evidence that God works in dry places, don’t forget about the dry bones the Lord brought back to life in Ezekiel.  In the desert, Jesus faced His enemy and came through victorious, and when He left that desert His ministry began.  I’ve decided that this dry season I’m in is preparation; it’s about staying true to God and watching for Him in the desert.  My friend remember that the desert is not your dwelling place – it’s the path God has chosen for you and me on the way to the Promised Land.

In a Dry and Weary Land

He opened the rock and water flowed out; It ran in the dry places like a river” Psalm 105:41 (NASB).

Moses led the Israelites on their exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land. They left the delta region of northeastern Africa, where the Nile River kept the territory lush and green, and crossed into a dry and barren desert. In the desert, they were overcome by thirst – “there was no water for the community” (Numbers 20:2). As far their eyes could see, there was only sand – and not a single drop of water. They endured long days of marching with their worldly possessions on their backs and a long journey still ahead of them. They were weary. They were thirsty. They were suffering.

Dry deserts are not just in the wilderness of Sinai. Sometimes they are in our hearts.

Call them “wilderness seasons” or “the dark night of the soul” or “spiritual deserts.” One thing is certain, they are exhausting, wearying and seem to have no end in sight. If you read biographies of the spiritual giants of Christendom, you will find many experienced these difficult seasons. The Psalms are replete with the laments of David, Aseph and others who cried out, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Psalm 42: 1-2). Perhaps you also know the ache of a dry and weary soul, when you reach out for God and He seems so very far away. Maybe you have been in that season so long you don’t have the strength to reach out anymore. I know that soul-despair, I have been in the desert, feeling lost, parched, and lonely. I’ve gazed out across an endless expanse of dry, hot sand and wondered if I would survive to the other side – or if, in truth, there was anything on the other side.

There are many reasons we find ourselves in the desert and the Israelites provide the example for us. Sometimes the issue is with us – God commanded the people to cross over and take possession of the Land of the Canaanites, but they faltered for the same reasons we do. First they listened to the discouragement of others. Numbers 13:16-33 tells the account of the scouting party that went into Canaan and brought back a report to the people.  While Caleb and Joshua encouraged the people, the others left them filled with dread. Then, because of the discouraging report, the people lost their trust and confidence in the Lord. We read their reaction in Numbers 14:1-3– they wept and grumbled and envisioned only disaster. They forgot all the miracles God had done to bring them thus far and let their fear and doubts overtake them. From there, they rebelled in disobedience. Number 14:4 says they decided it would be better to return to their lives as slaves than obey the Lord: “They said to each other, ‘We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.” God responded by declaring that “Not one of them will ever see the land I promised” (Numbers 14:23). He determined that the entire faithless generation of Israelites would fall in the wasteland.

Fear. Doubt. Disobedience. They will lead us into the desert every time.

But let’s not forget the quest they were on. God took them out of slavery and bondage in Egypt to bring them into the Promised Land of blessing and fruitfulness and peace.   They were sojourners being let by YHWH to a “good and spacious land, land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8). They were on their way – with God – to better things. His promise was more than they could envision, and for the ones who chose to believe and press on, the blessings overflowed in their lives.

I have had dry and barren seasons because of my own doubts and sin and disobedience. But thanks be the God for His forgiveness and His mercy through Jesus Christ – I did not have to stay there. But the sweet truth I have learned is, often those desert seasons are leading me into a place of promise and fruitfulness and fulfillment that I could not see among the rocks and sand. Sometimes the desert is the place of preparation for the place of promise.

Here is one more point I want to make: even in the desert, God provided water. Psalm 107: 35 says “He changes a wilderness into a pool of water and a dry land into springs of water.” Even in their faithlessness, God proved faithful. He heard their cries (well, actually their grumblings) and as our key verse says, He brought water from a rock. Psalm 114:8 says “[The God of Jacob] turned the rock into a pool of water, the flint into a fountain of water.”

Listen to the beautiful promise of Isaiah 58:11 – “You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.” Hear his word in verse 14 “Then you will find your joy in the Lord.” Dry deserts are no match for God and His grace.

If you are surrounded by a sea of endless sand, cry out to God today and let Him bring the refreshing waters to your heart and your life. Then you can say with David, “In the roar of your waterfalls, all your waves and breakers have swept over me” (Psalm 42:7).

Holy Father, Your Word promises that You will “satisfy the thirsty” (Psalm 107: 9), and Lord, my soul thirsts for You. Oh, please let Your refreshing waters flow into my life. Amen.